Yalitza Aparicio, born from a marriage that mixes two Mexican indigenous communities, was nominated for the 2019 Oscar Awards for best actress. She starred in the role of a maid for a middle-class family in the 70s in Mexico City. However, after the nomination, there were scattered and, in some cases, misguided comments and racist attitudes about the actress's merit for such an award. Through social media, some Mexican actors and celebrities made it known.
This type of social expression demonstrates that a large part of Mexican society is still racist, and this is mainly related to colonial mentality. In addition, it reveals the exclusionary behavior and a lack of identification on indigenous communities, due to their ethnicity. It should be noted that these expressions do not only occur in Mexico but are also very common in post-colonized societies in Latin America and the Caribbean, which has strong implications for the inequality faced by this group of people.
Indigenous people occupied and occupy lower segments at all scales of social indicators (schooling, literacy, human development, etc.) and economic (per-capita income) in Latin America, and indigenous women are even below the average of this group (ECLAC, 2017). The possible causes of these results were described by the sociologist Rodolfo Stavenhagen and respond to a cumulative effect of economic and social inequality, and legal, institutional and subjective discriminatory policies brought under a racist vision of dominant groups since colonial times.
In this scenario, the case of indigenous women in the region is alarming, because, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), they are among the group of people with the greatest discrimination and adverse living conditions. This is due to their race, gender, and social status - defined as triple discrimination. The inequalities they face are lack of access to economic resources, lack of mechanisms for the acquisition and use of private property, limited opportunities for education, employment and health services, and lack of freedom of advice and choice in the absence of institutions that ensure their wills (UNDP, 2015).
Due to the disparities in the provision of basic services and economic opportunities between the countryside and cities in Latin America, many women are forced to migrate to urban areas. According to ECLAC's report, 3.2 million indigenous women live in cities in Peru alone. The urban migratory movement has allowed them and their families to be provided with better education and sanitation services. However, considering the number of hours worked, quality of work and remuneration, there is a resounding gap between an indigenous and non-indigenous woman. On the other hand, the case of those living in rural areas or remote urban areas, indigenous women are more likely to die due to complications during childbirth compared to a non-indigenous woman and, in general, they present adverse reproductive and sexual health outcomes, according to a study of Heather Wurtz en América Latina (2012).
It is also important to understand the contexts of the individual characteristics that define a low-income indigenous woman in Latin America. On the one hand, at the level of women's rights in face of violence and discrimination, the nations of the region have recognized and put into practice mechanisms that demonstrate progress in this regard (reduction of femicides and increased participation of women in the population economically active). On the other hand, the rights and self-determination of indigenous peoples have also been recognized (eg. the plurinational states of Ecuador and Bolivia). Meanwhile, the number of people in poverty has been progressively decreasing, from 43% in 2000 to 31% in 2016.
Indigenous women at El Centro Histórico de La Paz in Bolivia.
The context of indigenous women, which in many cases has the three characteristics, women, indigenous and poor, remains invisible considering the advances in these fields in the region. Therefore, under a particular perspective of this group of people, there are barriers that prevent proper integration into the economic and social system for those living in urban areas. While for those women who decide to have a lifestyle and worldview according to the culture and customs of their community, better proposals from the State have to be developed to improve their quality of life, without harming their traditions.
Finally, the success of a low-income indigenous woman, nominated as the best actress on a global stage, shows that a way out of poverty is possible even under these circumstances of enormous disadvantages. Partly, it contributes to eliminating negative social construction against indigenous people, especially against indigenous women. That is the lesson and hope that Yalitza's work has given us throughout Latin America.
Moreover, a Pan-American record was established in the 40K marathon and was the first gold medal for the Peruvian delegation at the 2019 Lima Games. The leadership and courage of Gladys Tejeda, from the Peruvian Andes, showed that great goals can be achieved and stereotypes about indigenous people are invalid and only create indifference, but what really is needed is to open opportunities for development.
Gladys Tejeda crossing the finish line in the 40K marathon at the 2019 Lima Pan American Games.